Review: The Vietnam War, as Fought by the French, in ‘The 317th Platoon’ - Freeverything.com

Review: The Vietnam War, as Fought by the French, in ‘The 317th Platoon’


Pierre Schoendoerffer was a war photographer in what was known as Indochina in the early ’50s, and was a prisoner of war at Dien Bien Phu. The experience was, it can be inferred, a defining one for Mr. Schoendoerffer, who died at 83 in 2012. He first wrote “The 317th Platoon” as a novel, and made it into a film in 1964, traveling to Cambodia to shoot at authentic locations.

The cinematographer he brought with him was Raoul Coutard, one of the seminal forces of the Nouvelle Vague, and an ace at capturing striking imagery under tough conditions. The movie’s story is a plain one of war and survival. A French platoon, made up of both French and Laotian soldiers, is ordered to abandon a highland outpost and rejoin larger French forces. The soldiers soon discover that they’re walking right into a growing Viet Minh offensive.

The commanding officer, Torrens (Jacques Perrin), is a young lieutenant who’s been in country a little over two weeks. The platoon’s adjutant, Willsdorf (the great Bruno Cremer), is a battle veteran who, as an Alsatian, was forced into the German Army in World War II. The two have conflicting tactical ideas, but enough respect for each other that their differences never come to a head.

And they don’t have to. This is a staggeringly engrossing and effective movie, its settings both beautiful and oppressive, its incidents tense and eye-opening. There are no philosophical musings, no what-are-we-fighting-for debates. It’s all about getting out in one piece as the odds of doing so get worse every hour. A terse text at the film’s end is a gruesome, ironic twist on the adage about living to fight another day. Screening officially in New York for the first time, this is a genuinely revelatory war movie.

Not rated. In French and Lao with English subtitles. Running time: 1 hour 40 minutes.



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